A weekend break in the Cotswolds offers visitors picture-perfect village life with exquisitely pretty countryside to stride through and cosy pubs to hunker down in
When is the best time to visit the Cotswolds?
While villages like Burford can be busy during the summertime, city folk who come looking for a relaxing weekend break in the Cotswolds usually find the slower pace a pleasure. Walkers will love the scenery in spring, but might find that the shorn fields of September are a little less pleasing to the eye. In high summer, festivals like Wilderness, The Big Feastival, Bampton Charter Fair and Longborough Festival Opera take place – why not combine a visit to one of them with an extra day to wander the pretty villages before or after?
What are the best attractions in the Cotswolds?
The biggest attraction of the Cotswolds is the great outdoors – it is outstandingly pretty here and there are more than 3,000 miles of footpaths and bridleways to ramble through acres and acres of ancient woodlands and wildflower meadows. Blenheim Palace is the jewel and crown of the Cotswolds – the childhood home of Winston Churchill and current home to the Marlborough family, who fund the upkeep of the tremendous 18th-century estate with exhibitions and tours through the Hawksmoor-designed buildings.
Kids will love meeting the meerkats at the Cotswolds Wildlife Park and Gardens. This privately owned zoo is set in 160 acres of parkland and features penguin enclosures, sloths, squirrel monkeys and a big lemur sanctuary. The Manor House on the grounds, originally the family home of founder William Hervey, has also been turned over to visitors and animals – the former library is now a bar for visitors, while the cellars are used to shelter hibernating reptiles. More animal attractions are in store at the Crocodiles Of The World centre, where more than 200 reptiles are ready to snap at visitors from a safe distance.
The mazes at Hidcote Manor are a must-visit – this National Trust estate is a perfect example of the Arts and Crafts movement and its landscaped gardens laid out in 1910 are worth a stroll for the pretty flora alone. However, the main draw here are the maize mazes – at over seven and a half acres in size (larger than three football pitches) they make up one of the country’s largest mazes with over four miles of paths.
Where are the best places to go shopping in the Cotswolds?
People come from far and wide to visit Bicester Village (it’s second only to Buckingham Palace for Chinese tourists). Its luxury boutiques sell designer fashions from previous seasons at a fraction of the original price. This is sale shopping the civilised way – nothing about this place suggests any reduction in quality or presentation. If anything, perusing the neat rows of mini stores with manicured lawns and immaculate pathways is decidedly more enjoyable than shopping at most high streets and department stores. Stop afterwards at nearby Hampton Poyle for a pizza at The Bell pub – Prince Harry has been spotted here propping up the bar. The wood-fired oven churns out the best pizzas for miles.
You cannot beat the Cotswolds for independent shopping – its pretty villages are the perfect setting for carefully curated boutiques and country stores selling local produce and crafts. The winding lanes of Cirencester are home to lots of little niche shops and a regular craft market at the Corn Hall. Hit Stow-on-the-Wold, Moreton-in-Marsh, Tewkesbury and Winchcombe for antique shops, and Stroud for a renowned farmers’ market on Saturdays. Meanwhile, for the best of produce with pedigree, make a trip to Tetbury, where Prince Charles’ Highgrove Shop sells locally made crafts and food with the royal seal of approval.
Which are the best pubs in the Cotswolds?
The Boot Inn, just a few miles from Witney, is a charming low-beamed tavern with an impressive collection of single boots purloined from celebrities, sportsmen and cultural icons, from George Best to Jeremy Paxman. Walkers love The Bell at Sapperton, which serves up fantastic pub grub from regional produce. The pub also lays out water bowls for dogs and tethers for horses – should you have one of those in your party. Wiltshire’s The Potting Shed Pub has low beams and stone floors, as well as a large garden complete with a veg patch – look out for recently unearthed roots popping up on your lunch plate. Meanwhile, if you’d like a glimpse of the glitterati with your pint, then head to The Swan in Southrop. It’s Kate Moss’s local and she’s often to be found here with other Primrose Hill escapees taking in the postcard-perfect village backdrop.
Check out our hotels in the Cotswolds and see what this countryside destination has to offer.